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MIXED MEDIA | big ideas and oddball interpretations

South Florida: crossroads for cultures and creatures

From the hardwood hammocks in the Everglades to the seagrass beds and coral reefs of its bays and keys, South Florida's wilderness is as varied as it is fragile—wet and dry, resilient and delicate. And all that diverse beauty is under constant threat because it abuts the country's fourth most populated urban area. —Tristram Korten

Sweaty Rhythms
Sure, visitors come to Florida for the sand, sun, and gators. But to really get the place, you need to feel its rhythms. Native fusion masters Spam All Stars, especially "Song for Haiti." Composed in the aftermath of that country's 2010 earthquake, it's a moving anthem of the disaster.

Gators vs. Caterpillars
The ongoing struggle to beat back the South Florida jungle and fill in the swamp has prompted grandiose innovations like Henry Flagler's epic effort to build a railroad over the water to Key West, chronicled in Les Standiford's Last Train to Paradise (Broadway, 2003). That type of developmental zeal has led to suburban sprawl. Paving Paradise: Florida's Vanishing Wetlands and the Failure of No Net Loss (University of Florida, 2010), by Craig Pittman and Matthew Waite, documents the love affair between government and developers.

Surrounded by Sea
When snorkeling Biscayne National Park or target="_blankJohn Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, keep your eye out for the dramatic lionfish—an invasive species with a voracious appetite, no natural enemies, and a robust reproductive system that scientists predict will wreak havoc on reef life. Cook them up according to the recipes in Tricia Ferguson and Lad Akins's Lionfish Cookbook (Reef Environmental Education Foundation, 2010). For a broader taste of subtropical cuisine, check out Miami Spice: The New Florida Cuisine (Workman, 1993), by master griller Steven Raichlen.

Getting Out
Think watery Appalachian Trail. Kayakers on the 1,515-mile Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail, which passes through parks, marine sanctuaries, and nature preserves, can plot trips that will keep them within a day's paddle of a campsite, thanks to the indispensable map produced by the state's Office of Greenways and Trails. It includes GPS coordinates for campgrounds, phone numbers for ranger stations, and brief but informative natural histories. For recreation in the Miami area, check out the Miami-Dade County park department's comprehensive website Eco-Adventures. A useful app is Audubon Guides' Ultimate Florida Nature Guide.

Photos: Lori Eanes (2); CreativeWay/Alamy (captive); Courtesy of National Audubon Society

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